Not long after Attorney General William Barr was sworn into office in February 2019, he began debating with federal prosecutors in New York who brought the case against Michael Cohen, President Trump's former lawyer and fixer, questioning why they decided to charge him with campaign finance violations, people familiar with the matter told The New York Times.
In 2018, Cohen pleaded guilty to tax evasion and campaign finance violations, after admitting he paid hush money to a porn star who said she had an affair with Trump. Cohen said he did this at the direction of Trump, who was referred to as "Individual-1" in court papers.
After several weeks of discussions with prosecutors, Barr asked Justice Department officials in Washington, D.C., to draft a memo with legal arguments that could have raised questions about the legitimacy of Cohen's conviction, several people told the Times. There is little Barr could have done to change the outcome of the case, a Justice Department official told the Times, as Cohen was convicted and sentenced before Barr became attorney general.
After this incident, Barr told aides and other U.S. attorneys that the Southern District — which has been investigating several Trump allies — needs to be reined in, the Times reports. Last week, Geoffrey Berman, the former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, was ousted, with Barr initially saying he was stepping down. Berman said he had no intention of resigning, and only agreed to leave after Barr sent him a letter saying he had been fired by Trump. Barr told NPR on Thursday that Berman was "living on borrowed time from the beginning," and it is "conspiracy theorists" who are suggesting "that there's some ulterior motive involved."